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Cornell Opens New Biofuels Laboratory

Cornell University is the proud new home to a state-of-the-art Biofuels Research Laboratory, lauded as a unique research, educational and economic development facility rolled into one.

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Creating sustainable, economic new fuels is goal of facility

Cornell University is the proud new home to a state-of-the-art Biofuels Research Laboratory, lauded as a unique research, educational and economic development facility rolled into one.

"This research facility will catapult Cornell to the forefront of biofuels research," said Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Susan Henry at a ribbon-cutting for the lab Tuesday.

Cornell administrators and researchers were on hand along with representatives from New York State, which provides support to fund the lab's construction, including an Empire State Development grant.

Researchers at the laboratory are working on developing sustainable and economic biofuel production methods derived from crops like switchgrass, sorghum and willow.

Professor of biological and environmental engineering Larry Walker, who was instrumental in making the lab a reality, said that while researchers now are capable of deriving fuel from non-food plant material, the process has not yet been developed that would make widespread sale and use of biofuels a feasible option.

"I can look you in the eye today and say we can make biofuel," Walker said. "But, can we do it economically? No. Can we do it sustainably? Maybe."

Though he doesn't expect biofuels to completely replace petroleum, Walker said he is confident they are an important part of the future of energy production.

Cornell President David Skorton said the facility is an important addition to the campus, providing educational opportunities to students, valuable research and potential for economic development in the state.

State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker said ramifications of the research at the lab could include enhanced local tax bases as feed stocks and production centers are established.

Researchers in the lab, built in an older laboratory which had fallen into disuse, are developing not only fuel production methods, but also enzymes, microorganisms, plant breeds, technology and software.

Henry said the work at the lab is being done alongside research on the best way to grow and transport plants for biofuel in New York State.

Source: The Ithaca Journal